Still An Awfully Big Adventure
Over coffee with a friend, I was trying my best to answer the “What’s been going on? How are you?” question without turning on a fire hydrant. A few days earlier I made the drive to Colorado Springs for my second memorial service in two weeks. The first one, provoked me to write ”An Awfully Big Adventure,” posted a few weeks ago. That was a celebration of life a well lived over nearly 90 years. This second memorial service was for a 12-year-old girl - a “wordless life,” a life short-lived but profoundly impactful. As I responded to my friend’s question, I was still putting the pieces together of the juxtaposition of these two deaths. What came about was a conversation of the Western avoidance of pain, of suffering and sorrow, and therefore, a Western misfortune of never really knowing true Joy.
Sometime later I was re-reading something Paul Tillich wrote sixty years ago that sums it so concisely:
“Joy seems to be the opposite of pain. But we know that pain and joy can exist together. Not joy but pleasure is the opposite of pain. There are people who believe that man’s life is a continuous flight from pain and a persistent search for pleasure. I have never seen a human being of whom that is true. It is true only of beings who have lost their humanity…”
It is not news that our society spends quite a bit of money and energy to avoid pain in the name of being happy, (maybe missing the difference between happiness and joy in the process). Pain killers, Pharmaceutical advertising, “reality” TV, the “Entertainment” industry, to name a few examples. And when it comes to death, well, somehow it is a believable and “reasonable” pursuit of science to seek some solution to the disease they call dying. So, it is not so surprising that Tillich’s words ring a larger, deeper resonate bell today than when he wrote them.
But Joy is not the absence of pain or suffering and this never ceases to be shocking news. Sometimes Joy is all on its own, pure and shining radiant. Most of the time, it is an all too familiar bedfellow with pain and suffering; maybe it is because it is so much the more recognizable as Joy when seen in the midst of Pain.
In my experience, my desire to be fully human carries the expectation of both Joy and Sorrow, and sometimes in the same room. Also, in my experience, I meet legions who strive vehemently to live only on the Joy side - they tend to have as much authenticity as a three-dollar bill, they have “lost their humanity.” There are just as many who waddle in sorrow and pain, tossing more onto their back just when it seems to be washing away. They may make for great rock stars and folk artists, but they don’t seem to live very long. (Just ask Kurt Cobain, Nick Drake, or Elliott Smith.) And most that live on this dark end of the spectrum aren’t talented enough to turn a profit from their mud. They, too, have lost their humanity.
So where does that leave us? Could it be that to be fully human and fully alive we must live the full spectrum of joy and sorrow, giving each its due?
As my friend Nigel says, ”Always follow the tears. They lead to something more real, beautiful.” Sometimes it is Joy, sometimes Pain… and somehow both are of the same substance.
Below is the story of 12 year old Hadley, or more so, the bigger story of her life and death and how her “wordless life” spoke volumes into her family’s story.